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Darwin’s Century: The Jeremy Norman Collection First edition of <em>On the Origin of Species</em> (1859), presented by Darwin to Charles Kingsley First edition of On the Origin of Species (1859), presented by Darwin to Charles Kingsley One of the best caricatures of Darwin to follow the publication of <em>The Descent of Man</em> (1871), which stated that the extinct ancestors of humans would have to be classified among the primates. One of the best caricatures of Darwin to follow the publication of The Descent of Man (1871), which stated that the extinct ancestors of humans would have to be classified among the primates.

Darwin’s Century: The Jeremy Norman Collection Jeremy M. Norman

(The “Darwin’s Century” collection was sold at Sotheby’s in London on December 11, 1992)

I began this collection as a college student more than twenty-five years ago, not long after reading Loren Eiseley’s semi-popular history of evolution entitled, Darwin’s Century (1958). As a boy I had read several accounts of Darwin’s life, and I had read at least part of his Beagle journal. As a history major at the University of California at Berkeley I found myself increasingly drawn to the history of the biological sciences. Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection towered over all other theories as the central organizing concept in biology, the most wide-ranging and profound way to understand, if not explain, the development of life.

What I think attracted me most to Eiseley’s book was his account of the drama that unfolded around the theory of evolution throughout the nineteenth century. Eiseley described a drama with numerous characters who took positions on either side of the evolution question. There were precursors of Darwin’s theory of natural selection like William Charles Wells and Patrick Matthew. There were the opponents of Darwin such as Louis Agassiz and Richard Owen, and there were Darwin’s colleagues and collaborators such as Sir Charles Lyell, Thomas Henry Huxley, and the co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace.

From Eiseley and other books on the history of evolution I learned that evolution of simpler forms of life to the more complex was an ancient and fruitful, yet controversial, concept widely debated for centuries. It was sometimes understood as a ladder with simpler forms on lower rungs and higher forms on higher rungs. Sometimes it was thought of as “the great chain of being.” The notion that there was a continuum from simple to the more complex implied to some thinkers that life had progressed since it first appeared on earth; to others it was away to understand God’s fixed plan of creation.

As more and more species were discovered throughout the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, efforts to understand their inter-relationships increased. Scientists like Cuvier, who believed in the fixity of species, tended to think of and to classify new and old species in terms of standard “types”. Ernst Mayr has called thinkers like Cuvier, Agassiz, and to some extent, Richard Owen, “typological thinkers” in contrast to certain evolutionists such as Lamarck and Darwin whom he called “population thinkers”. While Cuvier would look at a species population and see more correspondence to what had been posited as the ideal type than deviation, Lamarck, and later Darwin, would look at all of the specimens collected for a given species and see more deviation or variation from the ideal type than correspondence to it. The “population thinker”, preoccupied with variation of species, found it difficult to use the typological metaphor of fixed rungs in a ladder or fixed links in the “great chain of being.” In his effort to understand the purpose of all this variation, Lamarck argued for the theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Darwin and Wallace proposed the theory of natural selection.

It is not possible here to develop or more fully support the wide historical generalizations outlined above. However, another concept essential to the plan of the collection which I have called, after Eiseley, Darwin’s Century, is the age of the earth. In Darwin’s day strict religious doctrine, following James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, dated the creation of the world at 4004 B.C. Like biologists, geologists and palaeontologists were divided into two camps. The first of these were those who found a way to explain how the earth and its fossil record had evolved in only about 6000 years. These included Cuvier and his theories that a series of catastrophes, not unlike the biblical flood, had wiped out entire populations now preserved in the fossil record. The other camp, led by Sir Charles Lyell, were the uniformitarians who argued that the earth had evolved over hundreds of thousands of years following very gradual processes of erosion and upheaval that could be observed today. Without a way to show that the earth was very old there could be no acceptance of any theory of evolution because evolution by whatever means required long periods of time-exactly how much time no one knew. Since Darwin’s day the age of the earth, and by extrapolation, the date of the origin of life, has been steadily increased. During the 1970’s Donald Johanson discovered Pliopleistocene hominid fossils in Ethiopia, perhaps the earliest ancestors of modern man, yet themselves the culmination of billions of years of evolution from the first DNA molecules. These fossils which include “Lucy” and “The Family” are about 3,000,000 years old.

The common threads of the history of the evolution of the earth and the fossil record (geology and paleontology), of life upon it (evolutionary biology including genetics), and of the history of the evolution of man (physical anthropology; human prehistory), make up the fabric of the Darwin’s Century collection. Following Eiseley’s lead I was always interested in both sides of the controversy. Therefore the collection contains both works which represent the modern point of view, such as Darwin, and representatives of the opposition, such as Richard Owen. It is focused around collections of first and later editions of the writings of the leading protagonists in Darwin’s Century. Apart from Darwin himself, these included Alfred Russel Wallace, Sir Charles Lyell, Thomas Henry Huxley, Richard Owen, Robert Chambers, Francis Galton, Herbert Spencer, Samuel Butler, and others. Precursors of Darwin who figure in the collection include his grandfather, Erasmus, James Burnett, Jean Baptiste Lamarck, William Charles Wells and Patrick Matthew. In addition to books I attempted, whenever possible, to collect pamphlets and offprints, manuscripts, and pictorial material. I was particularly interested in association and presentation copies. Editions after the first were included only if they contained textual revisions by the author. As a collector I was also conscious of condition and I believe that I maintained high standards of condition throughout the collection where rarity allowed.

The core of the collection remains the Darwin material, which, while not totally complete, represents the most extensive collection of presentation and association copies of his works ever offered for sale. This collection also contains some ephemera unrecorded by Freeman in his bibliography, a small group of very significant Darwin letters, manuscript pages with choice content from both On the Origin of Species (discussing natural selection) and The Descent of Man (discussing sexual selection). I also have a set of books from Darwin’s personal library when he was a young man, signed and annotated by him, and some of the best original Darwin photographs, as well as other portraits. In my experience portraits of this type are even more difficult to obtain than books or manuscripts.

One of the unusual features of my Darwin collection are a number of books in special original cloth bindings expressly prepared for presentation with their edges trimmed by the binder. Only a few copies of each book were prepared in this way and the bibliographer of Darwin’s writings, Richard Freeman, made no mention of them. It was one of Darwin’s idiosyncrasies that he disliked books that had to be opened with a paper knife before they could be read, and he objected to uncut edges because they collected dust.

Supplementing the Darwin collection are the books about Darwin and Darwinism both from the standpoint of support and opposition. I tried to collect original reviews of On the Origin of Species and surprisingly was able to form a small collection of these. In collecting the opposing monographs I generally limited myself to those published during Darwin’s lifetime, and I was selective—Darwin’s work provoked published responses from hundreds of eccentrics.

After the Darwin collection I would place second my collection of books and manuscripts by Alfred Russel Wallace. It is possibly the most comprehensive private collection of Wallace ever formed. Co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection and one of the greatest naturalist/explorers and travel writers of all time. Wallace was enjoyable to collect because of his wide interests which ranged to the point of eccentricity. (An autograph letter signed by St. George Mivart in the collection confirms that.) Even more than Darwin, Wallace was a particularly interesting letter-writer. Some of the letters and presentation copies in this collection are of considerable historical interest. I was also able to acquire the complete autograph manuscript of Wallace’s last book, Social Environment and Moral Progress (1912-13). In some ways this work is a history of evolution by one of its major protagonists. No comparable autograph manuscripts by any of the other major participants in this collection appeared for sale during my many years of collecting and I strongly suspect that no comparable manuscript by Darwin, Huxley, Owen, or Lyell, is likely to ever appear on the market.

Next in order of my success is the T.H. Huxley collection, with its self-portrait by Huxley drawn while he was in Australia, together with some very good copies of his books, and a group of fascinating autograph letters.

Because of his opposition to Darwin, Richard Owen’s books have never received the attention from collectors which they deserve. Of all my author collections I would say that the Owen collection is the least complete, but I do have all of the important works, many in presentation (one to Charles Dickens), a good manuscript, and an extraordinary letter, unknown to historians, in which Owen discusses Darwin’s place in history. This letter may be my most significant discovery as a collector.

Very early in my evolution collecting, I became interested in Francis Galton, and that became the foundation of my genetics material. The Galton collection includes some exceptionally rare pamphlets and association copies, including some from the library of William Bateson.

My collections of Lyell, Chambers, Spencer, and Samuel Butler, while less extensive than those mentioned above, contain some very unusual items. For example, my favorite Lyell item is the copy of Lyell’s Antiquity of Man which he presented to Robert Chambers, author of the sensational and anonymous Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.

While many others have collected first editions of Charles Darwin, I believe that I was one of the first collectors to form a private library around the theme of the history of evolution in general. I was also one of the first to form a sub-collection on human prehistory, or the antiquity of man. I was able to find first editions of works on such notable fossil finds as Neanderthal Man, Pithecanthropus Erectus, and even the historic hoax, Piltdown Man. Prior to Neanderthal Man there were other discoveries of human fossils recorded in such memorable books as the colour-plate atlas by Esper and the very rare treatise by Schmerling. This subject is a relatively new field in collecting, but one of great interest.

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